Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 18, 2010 when a Centennial Mass was celebrated in honor of St. Margaret of Scotland (Waterbury) Church.
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Faith perspectives

A lead article of two dozen pages in the current issue of U.S. Catholic Historian (Winter, Vol. 33) triggered a personal reminder to do a piece on Connecticut’s military chaplains during World War II. The Catholic Historian’s focus was a renowned Passionist Boston priest, Father Fabian Flynn, who went through the War with the Army’s 126th Infantry Regiment, with whom he survived action not only in North Africa against Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps, but also at Omaha Beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944. Reading Father Flynn’s story caused me to return to some notes I had been compiling over the years about Connecticut’s chaplains who served God and nation during World War II.

The record shows that at least four of our finest priests landed on D-Day. One was Msgr. Joseph Lacy, who unexpectedly found himself designated as a Ranger, and insisted that he accompany his unit despite its protestations that he could not keep up. Historian Stephen E. Ambrose, in his definitive work, D-Day (1994), wrote that “men saw Father Lacy go down to the water’s edge and pull the dead, dying, and wounded from the water and put them in relatively protected positions. He didn’t stop at that, but prayed for them and with them, gave comfort to the wounded and dying. A real man of God.”

One of the Rangers’ primary missions was to take out the enormous defensive guns at Pointe-du-Hoc. How the Rangers ever scaled this height, which massive pre-invasion aerial bombings could not neutralize, remains a mystery. My understanding is that the names of the Rangers are inscribed on a plaque there; Msgr. Lacy’s name is included. For his bravery he received the Distinguished Service Cross.

After the War, Msgr. Lacy filled various assignments in the Vatican before returning to Hartford, where he eventually became Pastor of St. Luke’s Church in the city’s South End.

Three other Connecticut priests were in Normandy on D-Day: Father John A. Kelly, a Silver Star recipient, wounded during battle; Father Leo J. Picher, who went on to teach seminarians at St. Thomas, Bloomfield; and Father Charles Murphy. I had the privilege to know personally the first two named above.

According to Sister Dolores Liptak’s Hartford’s Catholic Legacy – Leadership (1999), a total of 55 priests were in army or naval service by the War’s close. The first to give his life was Father Neil J. Doyle, wounded in the Solomon Islands; he was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross. Msgr. Terrence P. McMahon, who preceded me as Executive Editor of the Transcript and with whom I worked for several years as Associate Editor, was a survivor of countless Kamikaze attacks upon the celebrated carrier, the Hornet, which he served as chaplain. (This was the second Hornet, the first having been destroyed at Pearl Harbor.) Father John Crawford, who became Pastor of Incarnation, Wethersfield, after years in the European Theater and several unit battle citations, was also a well-known chaplain. Likewise, the Navy’s Father Leonard T. Goode, who returned to active duty at sea during the Korean War.

Hartford’s roster was replete with so many other dedicated chaplains: Msgr. James Kerwan (whose brother, Father Francis T., recently retired from active pastoral ministry, also had a distinguished record in uniform), Msgr. John P. Wodarski, Father Robert G. Keating; Father Stephen A. Grinvalsky; Bishop Vincent J. Hines, who became Bishop of Norwich; and on and on. (These six priests alone were veritable giants.)

Today, thanks to history books and films about World War II, these rugged, committed priests keep reappearing in our minds and hearts. When we see them in documentaries, for example, kneeling in the mud to hear a dying G.I.’s confession; or anointing a Marine who got caught in machine gun fire; or helping extricate a wounded flyer attempting to land on a carrier, we become more convinced that our minor witness to the Faith is hardly witness enough.

Not all our WWII chaplains are listed here. There was also one whose field Mass kit I used regularly during the time of the Vietnam War for a ready reserve company of Marines quartered in the Hartford area. We used to meet for Mass – usually my third Sunday Mass – within the West Hartford reservoir acreage, as well as on the banks of the Connecticut River, just north of Hartford. The experience was profound.

Bishop Maurice F. McAuliffe, who was Bishop of Hartford during the War years, up to 1944, wrote a letter of appreciation to each of his priests in service. In his final communication, which the Transcript published, he expressed his pride in these men especially because “facing eternity every day, [they]…act the part of brave men.”

Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.